SUEZ CANAL CRISIS in 1950s

Crisis is an old word but it may never wear out its usefulness considering how often TV, the Internet, newspapers, radio, etc. use it. Just this week was another crisis, which took place in Las Vegas–so far 59 have died and  at least 500 injured. For a short word, crisis inspires the appropriate emotion.

My first knowledge of the word probably came in Tripoli, Libya, during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Although it affected Egypt more than Libya, it was a point of honor for a measure of self-rule for the Arab world.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France control the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gadaffi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadaffi took part in the riots in Libya. Good practice for his takeover later?

I’m going to share the comments from others who lived through the Crisis in Tripoli during those days. It was certainly nothing compared to Libya’s recent upheaval getting rid of Gadaffi’s government. Becky Rizek said: “I remember our house boy, Calipha, coming to work with bandages on his head and forehead. He said he was beaten because he was loyal to his American employers. He wanted to come to the States with us, which was impossible because he had at least one wife and three children. But for us, it was a day off from school. The kids on the base got to go to the Officers Club and wait on tables since the Arab waiters could not come in to work. I remember the MATS transports lined up on the runway at the base airport, ready to evacuate the American dependents should we have to go. I was all of thirteen and never forgot it.”

Elaine Frank recalled, “My dad’s car was stoned when he would come home from the base. We lived out on Homs Road and we lived in a duplex with a British family next door. They were shipped back (to the UK) and left in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they eventually did return several months later. Like you said, this was just the way of life living in the military. We had to leave Morocco because of the French and Arab conflict in 1954/55, and we were in Japan during the Korean War. Kids just took it all with a grain of salt. People back in the States were scared for us but we were fine; it was just that the British and Americans looked alike, and that is why they would throw rocks at his car.”

“I recall the Suez Crisis, with machine guns on British and French embassies and King Idris’ guards beating heads with truncheons,” Mike Harris commented.

The Palace of King Idris long ago

 

Riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of the city. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

Considering the turmoil in the Middle East since then, the Suez Crisis was a mild insurrection!

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the story! Makes it very exciting. I remember hearing a few bombs go off, which we could hear in Garden City and my mother, who raced home in our Ford from a minor gathering of Arabs in front of a friend’s home a few blocks away.

    victoria

  2. Thanks, Diana, for all the extra info and facts I didn’t know. I recall having a bag packed but no one being too upset by it all.
    I appreciate your readership and always welcome your input!

    victoria

  3. Hugh Reid says:

    interesting well written article Victoria.!
    It brought back memories including one exciting event I still remember well.I witnessed a riot in Sciara Istklal at the time of the Suez crisis.my father & myself aged 11 years old were walking down that Street from the Bata shop near Cathedral Sq down towards the Castle. At the other end of the street walking UP towards us a gang of youths were upending parked cars & torching them. My father who was rather portly suddenly grabbed me & raced back faster than I’ve ever seen him move towards the Cathedral SQ where we were parked adjacent to the post office
    We piled into the car & my dad started the car & it stalled as he’d flooded the carborator in the engine pumping the gas pedal in the panic …so we just waited agonisingly til after a few tries it finally started & off we raced together with quite a few other cars towards the sea front away from the advancing mob!
    Scary stuff to a young un!
    As British civilians My mum & I were evacuated shortly after back to Scotland for a year though my father stayed on in Tripoli where things calmed down eventually.
    Our apartment was near the Del Mehari hotel close to a large oil storage tank & we were scared that this would be a target to blow up but a very strong police presence around that area likely deterred them, as nothing ever happened to it
    Hugh

  4. Diana Becker Mullins says:

    October 1956, was very eventful as all Americans in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon were evacuated to Rome, Greece, the US as Israel took over the Suez Canal. Some went on US Navy ships and others by military flights. We had an hours notice to pack snag and get to the airport. Women and children with men coming a few days later. We ended up in Libya in Jan 57 for a. Few months after three months in Rome.

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